Cruising the New England Highway in southeast Queensland is a treat in itself. Dense forests and small-town charm abound on the three-hour journey from Brisbane to the heart of the Granite Belt, Stanthorpe. With several incredible national parks, an abundance of wildlife, and a surprising amount of gourmet food and wine producers—it’s easy to have an ongoing love affair with the region.
Initially, it was the ‘place of flowers’, Girraween National Park, which drew me to Queensland’s 5th highest elevation. Perhaps it was the desire to experience a bit of winter feeling that I’d long left behind, but without a doubt, the uniqueness of the natural terrain with its massive granite boulders and meandering Bald Rock Creek sealed the deal. The sheer number of beautiful walks for both amateur and advanced bushwalkers means that anyone can enjoy the day here.
If you’re in the mood for more adventure, try Sundown National Park—but I warn you this is not for the uninitiated four-wheel driver! Once you pass its gates, you’re on your own to navigate the extremely steep jagged trails that lead to Mount Lofty without much room to maneuver for fellow adventurers. Not in the mood to extreme fun? Simply drive Sundown Road from nearby Ballandean for a glimpse at hundreds of curious kangaroos and jittery deer, not to mention a prime sunset view if your timing is right.
But what if you aren’t a nature lover? Is there anything for you in the Granite Belt? I’m going to hazard a guess that even most people who aren’t wild about wilderness will go a fair bit out of the way for great food and wine. I know… I know, “Queensland doesn’t make any good wine.” Right? Well, I hope you didn’t place any bets on that assumption because I’m here to tell you that you’re going to lose a few bucks!
Though the area was first thoroughly explored and documented by Scottish botanist Alan Cunningham in 1827—many of the early settlers were Italian. Encouraged by the local Catholic priest, grapes were first planted here in the 1860’s to produce altar wine. Not considered for commercial development until a hundred years later, Granite Belt wineries have been sneaking up on the competition to be both domestically and internationally recognized since 2013.
Today, there are nearly fifty cellar doors in the area and I don’t have to tell you that for the average weekend visitor and even the most ambitious connoisseur, you’ll never visit them all. Having sampled a number of the local goods, I’d advise you to start with these:
- Golden Grove Estate, Ballandean – highly-acclaimed reds and whites in the Italian style If you don’t try the Nero d’Avola and the Tempranillo, you’re missing out!
- Tobin Wines, Ballandean—premium single-vineyard winemaker producing a gorgeous Chardonnay amongst several others
- Boireann Winery, The Summit (near Stanthorpe)—red wine only, quality wines that will have you coming back for more, not to mention the super-friendly owner Peter who loves a good chat during the tasting
Have I enticed you yet? “No, tell us about the food!”
How could I forget the region’s cuisine with locally-produced stars of the show? I assure you I have not. If you’re not camping and four-wheel driving in this stunning countryside, you will not want to pass on some of the best food for miles around. Having traveled many miles on my stomach, these are my personal favorites:
- The Barrel Room, Ballandean—truly unique dishes showcasing the best produce, free-range, and organic tastes of the area in a rustic farmhouse setting at Ballandean Estate Winery
- Granite Belt Brewery, Stanthorpe—something for the beer lovers here, a microbrewery with great food to match. The owners’ witty sense of humour is on full display throughout the joint.
- Mt. Stirling Olives, Glen Aplin—from plump olives with a Turkish flair to an outstanding cuppa with a taste of sumptuous homemade fudge, I dare you to leave without a bite for the road
- Stanthorpe Cheese, Stanthorpe—need I say more? Unique and delicious. Sample or take a seat at the in-house Jersey Girls Café and prepare to indulge
- Suttons Farm, Thulimbah—the best apple pie and cider for many a mile
The long and the short of it is that the Granite Belt truly offers something for everyone. Nature-lovers will be hard-pressed not to be awed by Mother Nature’s outstanding display of wilderness. Foodies will have plenty of variety to tempt their senses. Wine-lovers will want to come back for more. The only problem I’ve had is fitting it all in. Let me tell you, that’s one problem I’m happy to have.